Doubts weigh on ASX cash call

ASX shares plunged 6 per cent on Friday as investors expressed doubts over the reasons behind the sharemarket operator's $553 million capital raising.

ASX shares plunged 6 per cent on Friday as investors expressed doubts over the reasons behind the sharemarket operator's $553 million capital raising.

The company emerged from a three-day trading halt to reveal it had raised $267 million so far in the discounted share offer to institutional investors, with retail investors to start taking up the offer from Monday.

The share offer is aimed at raising funds the exchange says are needed to meet new capital rules expected for its clearing house service.

Investors are able to buy two shares for every 19 shares at the lower price of $30.

There was a slight shortfall in the take-up, however, with large fund managers and other investors taking up only 96 per cent of the new shares available. The remaining 4 per cent of the rights entitlements were sold and cleared at $3.70 - with investors signed up to a shortfall arrangement paying $33.70 per new share, the company said.

The company's share price was just below $35 before the trading halt was lifted. The shares closed $2.69 lower to $33.15.

Although analysts expected the shares to trade lower as a result of the program, Deutsche Bank analyst Kieren Chidgey said the fall also showed a lack of confidence among investors over the decision to raise funds - especially when debt was so cheap and readily available.

"People are asking questions. They can't understand the rationale behind the way they've chosen to fund this through equity rather than debt," he said.

Mr Chidgey said the decision might lead some to assume the ASX's management wanted to save their debt capacity for acquisitions in the future. "This is a potential concern given you don't know what they're going to buy."

The offer, fully underwritten by UBS, was announced by the operator on Tuesday. It was expected to dilute earnings per share by 5.1 per cent.

The company said the money raised would go to ASX Clear, the clearing facility for all futures and options, and to paying off $250 million in debt from a subsidiary, ASX Clearing Corporation.

ASX chief Elmer Funke Kupper said the funds would help the company compete with foreign clearing houses. "If you want to play on the global stage, you need to adhere to the highest available standards," he said.

The company also issued an update on its performance, warning it would pay a final dividend of 81ยข, about 12 per cent below analyst forecasts. Its full-year profit would be about $346 million, just below market forecasts.

ASX Ltd hopes to raise a further $286 million in the retail share offer.

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